The Philadelphia Eagles’ season certainly hasn’t gone as expected. Most people had a vision of a Wild Card berth lurking in the back of their minds, expecting that the Eagles would finish among the league leaders in both yards gained and points scored and an easy first in excitement generated.
Instead, the franchise has disappointed. Chip Kelly doesn’t have his franchise quarterback, and he’s just 3-5 at the midseason mark. Most frustrating is his conservative style of play.
Kelly’s first quarter against the Washington Redskins on the Monday Night Football opener was a mere tease. The real Eagles offense seems to be an average number of plays called, a high number of yards, and a relatively low number of points scored. The team is fifth in yards but just 19th in points scored, and it's in the midst of a brutal midseason slump that has made the team unbearably boring to watch.
The team is cycling through a quarterback carousel, and the 2014 draft can’t come quickly enough. The foundation is in place for a successful offense, but that can’t happen without a franchise signal-caller. The defense has come through for consecutive games now, but it’s still a subpar unit that ranks near the bottom of the defenses in the National Football League.
It’s difficult to hand out awards to a mediocre 3-5 team likely destined for a six- or seven-win season. But here’s an attempt at recognizing a few standout players on the team.
With all due respect to LeSean McCoy, a phenomenal playmaker in his own right, DeSean Jackson is the more valuable offensive weapon. He’s the lone receiving threat on an offense headed by a coach who absolutely refuses to use his trio of talented tight ends.
With Jeremy Maclin sidelined due to a season-ending injury, Jackson has been the focal point of the passing game. He’s on pace to shatter career highs in receptions (on pace for 90), receiving yards (1,346) and even touchdowns (10). Jackson is still the deep threat he was in his prime in 2009 and 2010, but he’s more of a complete receiver who can even go across the middle and be a force when he isn’t going long.
Jackson has caught at least seven passes in four different games this season. Entering 2013, he had done it four times in 75 contests. He’s totaled the first two-touchdown game of his career. And his top receiver opposite him has been Riley Cooper, arguably the least effective starting receiver in the league. That means defenses can focus more on completely taking Jackson out of the game.
If Jackson had Maclin opposite him, there’s no telling what his stats would look like.
DeSean Jackson’s value has been in his exclusivity as the lone receiving threat, but LeSean McCoy is surely a more talented offensive weapon.
Even with his recent two-game skid, McCoy is still the NFL’s best back in 2013.
He leads the league in rushes (156), rushing yards (733), rushing yards per game (91.6), and total yards from scrimmage (1,018). The method for the Philadelphia Eagles winning ballgames is simple: just give McCoy the ball. The team is 3-1 when McCoy receives 20 or more carries and 0-4 when he doesn’t.
McCoy is fourth in the league in missed tackles forced (29). He’s fumbled just once. He’s second among all running backs with at least 100 carries in yards per rush (4.7). And he rates nearly twice as good as any other running back in the league, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
There haven’t been too many defensive stars on the Philadelphia Eagles, but Fletcher Cox is definitely worth mentioning.
Last year’s first-round pick has made the successful transition from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end. Playing a 5-technique role would likely cut down on Cox’s pass-rushing efficiency, but Cox is rushing the quarterback at a much better rate than a year ago.
In 2012, Cox has 14 hurries in what was perceived to be a fine rookie season. This year, Cox’s 24 hurries put him on pace to total three-and-a-half times what he had last year. He leads all 3-4 defensive ends in hurries, and believe it or not, he has seven more than J.J. Watt (who is having a tremendous season still).
A higher sack total than three would be nice, but a season total of six sacks from a 5-technique end is still a solid season.
Jason Kelce could get the nod for both Comeback Player of the Year and Breakout Player of the Year.
The third-year pro is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. He’s a superb run blocker whose smaller frame allows him to get up the field quicker than most centers.
Kelce missed the majority of 2012 with a nasty knee injury, but he’s returned with ease. Kelce has a knack for committing too many penalties (five so far), and he’s been off with some of his snaps this year due to an undisclosed thumb injury.
But his return from a serious injury has been remarkable, and the Philadelphia Eagles offense wouldn’t be close to the same with Julian Vandervelde snapping the football.
Perhaps the most impressive Kelce stat comes courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required): The Eagles' running backs are averaging seven yards on rushes between left guard and center and five yards on rushes between center and right guard.
Bear with me on this one.
The award can’t possibly go to Chip Kelly or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, especially since the offense has stalled in recent games. The Philadelphia Eagles rate just 19th in the league in points scored, a disappointing ranking given their fifth-rated offense in yardage.
Billy Davis started rough; his defense allowed an average of nearly 35 points per game for the first four weeks.
Since then, though, the defense has given up 21 or fewer in every contest. The unit still ranks second-last in the league in points allowed, but there’s been a drastic improvement, and Davis is doing so with a less-than-stellar defense.
Davis hasn't had an ideal nose tackle in Isaac Sopoaga, who was traded away today according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, and he took over a team that surrendered at least 26 points in 10 of the final 11 games last season. The secondary is a patchwork unit, featuring players like Earl Wolff, Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen, none of whom would be heavily fought over by other teams if they were released.
But Davis has gotten the best out of his defense, even with the fact that the Eagles have excelled recently against the lower-caliber teams in the league. It’s definitely enough reason for Davis to return as the defensive coordinator in 2014, and some new pieces via the draft would really help the Eagles.
Evan Mathis still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he’s absolutely the NFL’s best guard.
A case could be made for Mathis as the best overall offensive lineman in the league, and the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed him as almost an afterthought two years ago is an incredible steal.
Last year, Mathis dominated his peers, grading as a plus-51.3. The second-best guard, Marshal Yanda, rated as a plus-24.3. And this year, Mathis is a plus-25.1. Compare that to other players often thought of as the best guards in the NFL: Mike Iupati (minus-5.4), Yanda (plus-6.0) or Logan Mankins (plus-5.2).
Mathis has given up exactly one sack in the last 39 games. He’s a dynamic run blocker and deserves a world of credit for the success LeSean McCoy has had. Mathis made the loss of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters much more bearable a year ago, and he’s teamed with Jason Kelce to give the Eagles arguably the finest guard-center duo in the league.